11 Ways to Improve School Communications and Community Engagement

The Glossary of Education Reform was created, in part, to help educators communicate more effectively with their communities and stakeholders. The website currently features more than 500 terms and 150 in-depth entries on many of the most popular and talked-about school-improvement terms, concepts, and strategies in the United States. All of the entries are written for a general audience in non-technical language, and they provide a concise yet detailed introduction to a wide variety of educational topics. In other words, the Glossary is far more than your typical glossary.

To help educators use the Glossary as a school communications tool, we created the following guide. While the recommendations are focused on schools, any educational institution or organization will be able to apply the strategies. If we have overlooked anything, please let us know by submitting your suggestions here.

  1. Link to entries on your website or blog. If you are explaining a new school-improvement initiative, whether it’s project-based learning or professional learning communities, consider including links to Glossary entries on your website or school blog. Explaining the technical nuances of a new strategy in accessible language can take a lot of time and thought, and it often proves to be trickier than it appears. If our entries are relevant and useful to your school-communications work, let us do some of the work for you. You can link specific terms on your website or direct visitors to our entries if they want to learn more about a particular concept or strategy.
  2. Incorporate entries into social media. Does your school have a Facebook page? Do you tweet? If so, consider posting or tweeting Glossary entries from time to time as a way to build greater understanding of specific school-improvement ideas. For many people, social media have become their primary sources of news and networking, and it’s where they are regularly exposed to new ideas, readings, videos, resources, and innovations. And because people can like posts or retweet, social media helps to spread ideas through personal relationships, professional networks, and communities.
  3. Reuse and repurpose Glossary content. All of our entries have been published under a Creative Commons license, which means that schools are free to reuse, republish, and repurpose all of our content, including excerpts, provided that the following guidelines are followed: (1) the Glossary of Education Reform and Great Schools Partnership should be credited as the original source of the content; (2) the republished or repurposed content cannot be sold or used commercially in any way; and (3) modifications to the content are allowed (even encouraged), but all modified content must also carry a Creative Commons license so that others can republish and repurpose it. That’s right: Go ahead and use our content if it helps you out! To acknowledge the Glossary, simply use the CC license that appears at the bottom of an entry or add you can add the line “Adapted [or Republished] from the Glossary of Education Reform by the Great Schools Partnership” beneath on your website content or print materials (adding links where appropriate). Learn more about CC licenses →
  4. Print and email entries. Do you have an upcoming community forum, orientation program, or event for parents and families? Consider distributing—through printed handouts, email, newsletters, or other publications—any entry or selection of text that serves your school’s communication needs. Increasing understanding of new and proposed initiatives can lead to greater community support for your work. We have worked hard to create understandable introductions to complex topics, so go ahead and use them if they help.
  5. Brief your school board and elected officials. In every school community, local elected representatives—whether they are school-board members, city officials, or state legislators—are among your most vital constituents and supporters. Making sure these community leaders truly understand what your school is doing—and why it matters for students—is one of the most important jobs school leaders have. Consider using or adapting our entries as needed when briefing your school board and local officials about new or proposed strategies.
  6. Send journalists to the Glossary. The glossary was created in collaboration with the Education Writers Association, a national organization that supports education reporters, so journalists are one of our target audiences. What this means is that every entry was specifically created with journalists, editors, and media professionals in mind. All entries are factual, objective, and impartial, and many include a debate section that discusses the major arguments for or against specific reforms. The goal of each entry is to provide a succinct (as possible) overview of a topic, and how it works in real schools. For this reason, the Glossary can be used as a go-to resource when you are trying to explain tricky school-improvement topics to your local media. Either before or after an interview, for example, consider sending an entry to journalists so they have a substantive overview of a school-improvement strategy you may discuss and they may write about. You can also encourage journalists to quote or excerpt the Glossary in their stories whenever it’s useful. Journalists generally welcome and appreciate resources that will help them write stronger and more accurate stories.
  7. Create your own common or shared definitions. While school-improvement strategies typically share similar features, they are often designed and implemented differently from school to school. As you or your leadership team work to create shared definitions or develop a common understanding of certain terms and strategies, consider using the Glossary as a starting point. When creating definitions or descriptions of new initiatives, keep in mind that it’s always best to use language that is precise and yet universally accessible. When both educators and non-educators alike can understand your descriptions, you have created communications assets that you can be used with multiple audiences. In addition, developing definitions in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders is a great way to promote greater voice and shared leadership in your school community.
  8. Build your own online glossary. If you find that your school is using a lot of terms that may not be understandable to some students, parents, or community members, consider creating and publishing a glossary on your website that defines the common terms you use. Again, if our entries are useful when building your own glossary, feel free to republish or repurpose our content, or link to entries as needed.
  9. Reduce or eliminate jargon. While common definitions and online glossaries can be very useful, the surest way to improve understanding in your community is to avoid jargon whenever possible. Consider using the Glossary to come up with alternative ways to describe and talk about your school-improvement work. For example, the term “assessment” is widely used in education. Even though most people are familiar with the term, it’s still jargon because it may refer to wide variety of sophisticated educational, pedagogical, and testing practices. Instead of saying “assessing students,” perhaps “evaluating what students have learned using a variety of methods such as X, Y, and Z” is more fitting for a given audience. Unpacking jargon can be a highly effective communication strategy, particularly when you focus your descriptions on what really matters—i.e., the goal of a strategy rather than its process. For example, saying “ we’re making sure your child has learned what she was taught” is likely to resonate with parents more than “we’re formatively assessing your child throughout the year.”
  10. Have text-based discussions. Glossary entries can also be used in text-based discussions with staff, students, parents, leadership teams, and others. Text-based discussions are a great way to focus and structure a conversation, while also increasing understanding of a particular topic. For example, school leaders could hold informal focus groups as a way to solicit community feedback on school-improvement initiatives or learn how to improve communications with stakeholders. During a focus group, time could also be set aside for a text-based discussion about a particular strategy your school is pursuing. Discussions such as these often provide school leaders with powerful insights about how certain concepts and strategies are perceived, understood, or valued by community members.
  11. Use the Glossary as an educational resource. When it comes to describing educational concepts in accessible ways or increasing understanding in your community, one complicating factor is that school-improvement concepts do not exist in a vacuum—they are always inextricably linked to other concepts and practices. For example, explaining the rationale behind a demonstration of learning will likely be much easier if your audience is also familiar with concepts such as authentic learning, relevance, or 21st century skills. The difficulty, of course, is that making these connections is complicated and can take a lot of time. The good news is that every Glossary entry contains links to related entries where readers can find additional definitions and discussions. Over time, these connections can build a more holistic understanding of certain topics by exposing their connections to other ideas and strategies.

Good luck!